7 FEBRUARY 1964, Page 17


SIR,-1 should have to write an historical treatise, if I were to inform Miss Smith of all the proposals that have been made (or acted uponl for making produc- tive work, rather than suffering alone, the basis of reparation demanded of criminals. So far as I know, the idea dates back to the mid-sixteenth century. Sen- tences at the Amsterdam tuchilutis (1596), where in- mates worked to pay for their maintenance and save money for their discharge, could by the same means be self-determinate. For a more recent example, see paragraph 388 of the Second United Nations Con- gress (1960). This outlines a suggestion from Mr. Sanford Bates for restitution instead of punishment: '[An offender] would be offered the choice of rendr- ing service either to the individual or group he had injured or to the society whose rules he had broken.'

May I, in my turn, ask for clarification of the fol- lowing assertions in Miss Smith's letter:

(a) 'Useful employment is complementary to use- ful treatment in many mental cases.' True. But how on earth can treatment be 'useful,' if it is cut off be- fore it is completed? That is the root trouble with treatment in prison—in so far as this exists at all out- side of the shop window of Penal Practice in a Changing Society; and Miss Smith's proposal would, if anything, make the position worse. It's like saying to a man with smallpox: 'We must send you to a fever hospital. But if you behave yourself there, we promise to discharge you while you're still infectious.

(h) 'Certifiable offenders ... would have the claims

against them paid by the General Compensation Fund.' Does this mean that they would be left at large? Including, say, Straffen, double murderer, ex- Broadmoor patient, gross mental defective and physi- cally disfigured, but none the less held responsible to the law and now serving a life sentence in Bristol prison?

(c) 'That prisoners should work to pay for their crimes . . . is a useful and satisfying moral and psychological transaction . . . restoring the prisoner to a respected position. This is of tremendous signi- ficance to every prisoner.' Really? To every prisoner?

Miss Smith's heart, as Mr. Cook very properly re- marked, is in the right place. But what she and other reformers (the well-meaning philanthropists, as Shaw called them) have never seemed able to grasp is that imprisonment is a method of legal coercion and retri- bution. Either one believes that its existence as such is morally justified—or one does not. There is no changing its fundamental character.

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